Magic Mike (2012)
Written by Reid Carolin
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Adam is a college dropout living on his sister, Brooke’s couch. After a day of work on a roofing crew that ends with Adam fired he meets Mike, a jack of all trades making money through construction, furniture design and, as Adam quickly learns, stripping. Mike is the star of Xquisite, a strip club featuring male performers. The owner, Dallas has plans to expand to a larger venue in Miami, and the success of his club in Tampa appears to be an omen of good luck. Adam takes to this lifestyle quickly despite the reservations of Brooke. Mike assures her this is a good thing while experiencing impediments in his journey to improve his life. As his days in Tampa dwindle, Mike begins to question the path he thought was clear of troubles.
Magic Mike is a film that disguises itself as mindless eye candy but has some very subtle, and frustratingly not explored in-depth enough, subtext about the collapse of the economy and inability of working class people to be successful. Mike deals only in cash, and he has lots of it. However, his dream is to start his own custom furniture business. When he goes to the bank to discuss getting a business loan to jumpstart this dream Mike is reminded that he has no established credit, so he’s not getting assistance. This is despite him bringing a massive wad of cash as proof of his solvency. Credit is the name of the game and Mike doesn’t have that.
Later, Adam goes in with the club’s DJ on a deal to purchase thousands of ecstasy pills with the idea he can sell them on the side, which he does at a sorority house party. This pursuit of more fed by greed doesn’t end well, and Mike ends up seeing this young man begin down a dark path that Mike worries is the same one he is on. This is about as far a Magic Mike goes in exploring the ideas of working-class economic struggle and the current state of our economy. I’d argue 2017’s Logan Lucky (also directed by Soderbergh and also starring Channing Tatum) does a better job of weaving an entertaining narrative with social commentary.
The rest of the film’s commentary on the economy is very subtle but is there if you are willing to look for it. Most obvious is the fact that Mike scrambles around doing a little of everything to maintain a relatively lavish lifestyle. He’s managed to avoid the credit game but in turn that has sabotaged his ability to “level up.” At the construction site, his foreman complains about hiring “union guys” and goes with unlicensed, inexperienced desperate Craigslist hires. These workers can be tossed aside like used tissue as we see with Adam and be argued with over swiping an extra Pepsi from the worker cooler. Brooke’s boyfriend, Paul (played by screenwriter Reid Carolin) talks in the background of dinner about being an insurance adjuster and says, “I just have to be the guy who has to tell them they don’t get to rebuild their houses.” This is delivered with a smarmy sense of self-congratulation.
During a 4th of July sand island party, Dallas conjectures about the state of education in America, stating that no one learns anything in school. He goes on to proclaim that if he had kids, he’d sit them in front of Jim Kraemer’s Mad Money for hours a day, positing that by the age of 10 they would be millionaires. The rest of his court happily agrees with Brooke rolling her eyes on the sidelines. The entire system with which Dallas has come to his riches is based on low wage service work. He tells Mike at one point, “You are worth the cash you pry out of their purses[…].” Mike can’t argue because at this point he has begun to see through the shallow nature and lack of sustainability the service industry provides. He’s told that he isn’t getting younger and even admits that he doesn’t want to be a 40-year-old stripper. Adam, who is at the start of his career, has no foresight about where this could all end and exclaims, “I have money. I can fuck who I want to fuck. I have freedom, thanks to you, man.” Mike internally questions what sort of freedom this is anyway.